At a grant ceremony on June 8, the 14 high schoolers in the 2021-22 Giving Initiative for Teens (GIFT), wrapped up a year of philanthropy, Jewish values, and using their voices to make a difference in their community.
Facilitator Rabbi Laura Rumpf said that GIFT, which is part of a national program, is a great way teach teens about the deep connection between Judaism and philanthropy. “It’s a tradition that goes back thousands of years,” she said. “That sense of being an active citizen in the world—and particularly in the place you live—means making a meaningful contribution that’s needed in the community.”
This year’s participants were eager to do that, and selected funding priorities that their communities are passionate about: homelessness and climate justice. They raised more than $7,000 to grant to three local organizations: Mary’s Place, which provides shelters for women and families; Climate Solutions, an organization dedicated to accelerating clean energy solutions to the climate crisis; and T2P2, a menstrual product donation collective committed to disrupting period poverty.
Josh Slate, 19, was part of the group focused on climate justice, and he said it was an easy decision for them. “It’s important to have a world that’s livable and sustainable, otherwise there’s no future for humanity,” he said. “It’s very urgent for us.”
After the topics were selected, the teens began fundraising. Rumpf was impressed by their efforts to reach beyond their immediate networks to raise not only money, but awareness. “They wanted the ripple effect to be wider,” she said. “As meaningful as it is to have one big donation from your great aunt who loves you, it’s also really powerful to have lots of little conversations with friends who may just give $5 or not be able to give at all, but who are listening to you and feeling inspired by the work you’re doing.”
Seeing the impact of their hard work was eye-opening to 16-year-old Mila Shulman. “GIFT taught me that concrete change is very feasible,” she said. “Before, I had a lot of doubt about how much a couple individuals can change anything. But going through this program taught me, ‘wow, I can make a difference.’ If I put in my time and effort, I really get to see change happen.”
Rumpf hopes GIFT continues to inform the way these teens view the world and the contributions they can make. “I hope they remember their voices matter,” she said. “I hope this is just the beginning of the ways they’re able to make a really meaningful impact.”
As Slate heads off to college in the fall, he knows these lessons will stick with him. “I’ll continue to focus on local issues in my community and find new ways to make an impact that are aligned with my Jewish values.”
And will Shulman return for her senior year in GIFT? “Most definitely!” she said. “I loved the last two years and I can’t wait for my final one.”
The Foundation Board Incubator is a project of Honeycomb, generously funded by Laura Lauder and the Maimonides Fund.